Alliance and Gift Exchange Theory Revisited

PhD course, the Norwegian Institute at Athens, May 9-13, 2016

The Nordic Graduate School in Archaeology Dialogues with the Past in collaboration with The Norwegian Institute at Athens.

The Venus of Svinesund.

Photo: Museum of Cultural History, Oslo/ Mårten Teigen

Most prehistoric societies were organized on the basis of kinship and other bonds created between lineage groups through alliance. Alliance is normally founded upon gift exchange and inter-marriage, and has formed networks of contacts and movements of people and goods.


The body of theory connected to this area of research is basic for all scholars of prehistory. While originally coming from the subjects of sociology and social / cultural anthropology, prehistoric archaeology has adopted this theoretical framework. However, through studies of artifacts and ‘styles’ and their distribution, archaeologists can also contribute to this field of study. Prehistorians may provide case studies from virtually any prehistoric context and in this way also expand the anthropological knowledge held in common and bring greater time depth to this field of study.


Alliances, kinship and gift exchange encompasses a number of interrelated topics which will be explored in the course of the seminar. One is the classic issue of gift exchange; another is the epitome of “woman as gift”. A related topic is the “anthropology of feasting”.  During Alliance and Gift Exchange Revisited, we will


•Resume the classic literature of gift exchange and discuss more recent contributions.


•Study the relationship between gift and gender. Generally, we will address social persons as “objects of exchange”, and related to this, how goods and material objects attached to the person form integral parts of the alliance. Lévi-Straussian alliance theory, shaped throughout the 50’s and 60’s, held that woman represents the ultimate gift, a position that was based on a large body of ethnographic material. In the seminar we will go into the criticism of this theory, but also address the question of whether parts, or rather which aspects of it, can still be defended.


•Bring attention to the area of feasting, which is a central aspect of gift exchange and alliance making.


Networking and alliance-making is politics; it sets the course for smaller and larger historical changes. The theoretical tools and concepts explored in this course provide fundamental approaches to understanding the archaeological record. Thus, the ultimate goal of this seminar is to educate the doctoral students within this area as well as to inspire the use of the concepts.


PhD fellows with an interest in these research areas and perspectives are welcomed to sign up for this course. Expertise in the material analysis of ancient technologies is not a prerequisite. Participants in the course must prepare a paper for discussion.


Course work

The course will consist of both seminars and lectures. Before the course starts, each PhD student will prepare a paper for pre-circulation, addressing her or his research project in relation to the course theme. In the course seminars, each paper will be allotted ca. 45 minutes, beginning with the student presenting a 15-minute summary of its contents. This is followed with a 10 min commentary from one of the other PhD students (selected in advance), after which she or he will chair an open discussion on the paper for approximately 20 minutes.



Professor Michael Rowlands  (Department of Anthropology, University College London)

Ass. Professor Thorgeir Kolshus (Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo)

Professor Jorunn Økland (Centre for Gender Research, University of Oslo)

Ass. Professor Ingrid Fuglestvedt (Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History, University of Oslo)



1 month or 7 ECTS


Location, travel and costs

The seminar will take place at the Norwegian Institute at Athens. The Graduate School will finance and arrange travel and accommodation, as well as supply a daily allowance during the seminar for all participating PhD students who are part of the Dialogues With the Past network. Two PhD students will share a room.



The Graduate School invites all registered PhD students to apply for participation. Please follow this link to apply for the course (in English only). From these applications, c. 20 PhD students will be admitted to the course.



For more information please contact:


Important dates

Application for participation: February 15, 2016  February 22, 2016

Submission of working papers (10 pages, Times New Roman 12, Spacing 1,5):  April 11, 2016



Ass. Professor Ingrid Fuglestvedt, University of Oslo
Tags: Gift Exchange, Alliance, Kinship, Woman as Gift, PhD Seminar, Feasting, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Dialogues with the Past
Published June 11, 2015 6:48 PM - Last modified Mar. 4, 2020 8:18 AM